Now And Then: Presidio

Click and drag center circle back and forth, to compare then and now image.
Photo of Washerwoman's Bay in 1858 Modern photo of the Marina District from Russian Hill
GGNRA Park Archives. Fort Point Administrative Collection
Ted Barone NPS

Washerwoman's Bay in 1858

Washerwoman's Bay is seen in this photo from Russian Hill with the Presido in the distance.  Fort Point was still under construction with Strawberry Island at the right. A small lake or Laguna Pequeña as it was known during the Mexican era, was bounded by today's Lombard, Filbert, Gough, and Laguna Streets.  Indigenous women used the lake to wash clothes which led to the name Washerwoman's Lagoon.  After gold discovery and the explosion of the population in San Francisco, the lake was used by hundreds of people doing laundry.  The resulting suds soiled the pristine water, but the real damage was done first by the effluent from the slaughterhouses established in the 1850s near Pacific and Larkin and then the raw sewage that flowed from the growing Russian Hill and Nob Hill neighborhoods nearby.  The lake was mostly filled in 1877. The rest of Washerwoman's Bay filled for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

Photo of the Alameda - Entrance to the Parade Ground 1883 Photo of the Alameda today
GGNRA Park Archives
Ted Barone NPS

The Alameda - Entrance to the Parade Ground 1883

The Alameda was established as the formal entrance to the Presidio Parade Ground. It was located midway on Officer's Row and planted with a variety of trees including Cypress and Monterey Pine.  A bandstand is to the left.  Note the cannon balls lining the oval.  The residences to the south or left of the Alameda were built during the Civil War.  Today, the oval is much smaller and the path to the parade ground is blocked by buildings that now house non-profit organizations.

Photo of troops in the Presidio c1898 Modern photo looking south on Montgomery Ave
GGNRA Park Archives
Ted Barone NPS

Troops in the Presidio c1898

Troops used the parade ground for drills, here marching south on Montgomery Ave.  Prior to the Spanish-American War, Presidio troops were caled upon for a variety of purposes including limited action in the Indian Wars, earthquake relief, patrolling the new Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, and in 1894 to quell rioting during hte Pullman Car Company strike in Sacramento. Units from Alcatraz, Benicia and the Presidio took control of railroad property and cavalry units patrolled the city streets breaking up crowds near the railroads.

Photo of the Presidio Parade Ground 1898 Modern photo of Sunday picnics at the Presidio
GGNRA Park Archives
Ted Barone NPS

Presidio Parade Ground 1898

By the end of the 19th Century, the Presidio grew in importance as the key element in a new era of coastal defenses for the western United States.  To accommodate the growing forces, new masonry barracks were built along Montgomery Street.  After the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor, was was declared to expel the Spanish from its colonies in Cuba and the Philippines.  President McKinley made a decision to occupy the islands rather than liberate them.  The Presidio became a major staging area for the campaign against Manilla, completing the occupation in mid-August of 1898.  the treaty between the US. and Spain ceded the Philippines to the U.S., a great disappointment to the rebel Filipino forces.  In early 1899, Filipino leader Emilio Aquinaldo declared war against the United States.  U.S. forces grew from 12,000 to 75,000 within two years, nearly all of those soldiers passing through the Presidio.
Today, during the summer months, the parade ground is used as a site for a weekly Sunday picnic with food trucks, music, and games.

Photo of Lombard Gate, c1898 Modern photo of Lombard Gate
GGNRA Park Archives
Ted Barone NPS

Lombard Gate c1898

Brig. Gen. Marcus Miller and his staff led the 51st Iowa Volunteer infantry through the Lombard Street gate to the SS Pennsylvania docked at the Embarcadero en route to the Philippines.  
After the war, liquor was a problem, particularly off the post.  On Christmas Day 1901, a group of soldiers attacked Torpey's Saloon near the Lombard Gate, damaging windows and doors before a cavalry detachment from the post was able to disperse them.  No charges were filed.  A few months later, soldiers gutted and attempted to burn two saloons at the corner of Lyon and Greenwich streets, a few blocks away from the Lombard Gate.  Army officers forced the mob back onto the post.

Colorized postcard photo of the Parade Grounds with artillery c1900 Modern photo of fandango dance troupe at Sunday Picnic
GGNRA Park Archives
Ted Barone NPS

Parade Grounds with artillery c1900

In this colorized postcard photo, a field artillery battery practices with 3.2-inch, rifled, breech-loading field guns, drilling for deployment to the Philippines.  The modern photo is of a crowd enjoying a fandango dance troupe during the Sunday Picnic in the Park.

Photo of a Field Artillery Batter c1910 Modern photo of the Presidio Visitor Center
GGNRA Park Archives
Ted Barone NPS

Field Artillery Battery c1910

A field artillery battery of 3.2-inch breech-loading guns are assembled near the guardhouse preparing for a practice march, c1910. The Marin Headlands are visible in the background.  Today, the guardhouse serves as the Presidio Visitor Center.

Photo of a biplane flying over the Presidio 1929 Photo of the Presidio parade ground today
GGNRA Park Archives
Ted Barone NPS

Biplane Flying Over the Presidio 1929

A De Haviland DH-4 biplane from the Army Air Service's 91st Observationn Squadron flies south above the Parade Ground in 1929.  In 1876, the post's trader, Angelo Marcian Gasper Beretta, planted three eucalyptus trees in honor of his three daughters to celebrate the centennial of the American Revolution.  The Army cleared the area for a new parade ground but left one of the trees, the Centennial Tree, which still stands near the center of the parade ground and is visible to the right of both photos.

Last updated: March 22, 2021

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